A few years ago, I discovered the Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz. At its heart, it’s an educational aquarium, but it’s a bit more than that. It was everything I love about the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium at the other end of the Monterey Bay without all the things I hate.
The Seymour Marine Discovery Center has lots of tanks with local sealife and information about them. It also has several educational stations where younger children can play with ocean-themed toys and older children can engage in hands-on lessons. The touch tanks were uncrowded and staffed with friendly volunteers who encouraged the children and who knew lots about the animals on display. Every ticket included a tour of the center’s outside, which included a rare blue whale skeleton, a tank with Navy-trained mine-hunting dolphins and scientist-aiding otters, and the roiling ocean waves. There was even a scavenger hunt, something which Neil loves doing, and after he’d found all the animals on his list, he got a prize of his choice.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is considerably larger with bigger and rarer wildlife, and more dramatic exhibits, but, I swear, it can be downright painful to go there in the summer time. The exhibits are packed three or four people deep, and the animals in the touch tanks look seriously touched out. The nearby Monterey sidewalks are nearly impassible and blocked by my least favorite type of tourist: the tour bus tourist, either shuffling slower than a mollusk on Prozac or dressed in inappropriate clothes I thought had died a deserving fashion death 5 years ago.
So when Via Magazine asked its readers to send in their favorite aquariums of the west, I knew exactly which one to recommend. To my delight, they published it, for which I also got a t-shirt and $50. Yesterday, to my surprise, I also received a package from the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. As a thank-you for mentioning them (even though it was well-deserved by the aquarium in the first place), they sent me a copy of their calendar and 4 free passes to visit the center again. Wow!